Why you don’t get to decide that Caitlyn Jenner is a man named Bruce.

The first day of my first anthropology class, my professor said that he needed for a moment to make us the most uncomfortable we’d ever been made.  It was cultural anthropology, and in the process of that class we’d spend a lot of time talking about cultures that didn’t remotely resemble our own.  Our professor instructed us that we’d have to accept the reality of these other cultures wholeheartedly and not try to rationalize it against our own experiences.  “If you’re dealing with a society that believes the sky is an ocean and the stars are fish and rain is a leak in the heavens, you accept that.  You don’t try to explain to them that their god-fish is really a big ball of gas.  You accept their belief, and accept that it does for them the same thing that your God does for you.  In anthropology there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” society, there are systems of belief that work or they don’t, and if it works for that culture, it is the right belief for that culture.  By depriving a culture of belief, you deprive them of their way of being human.  No one gets to make that choice for other people.”

That lecture, in and of itself, was upsetting for many people, who believed that there was absolute truth and to “accept” the reality that in certain cultures illness was the result of the curses of other tribes, and sacrifices had to be made to out-curse the other tribes in order for a person to get better was somehow inherently wrong.  But my professor held his ground, explaining that for those cultures witchcraft works.  “They believe it works, and it works, and if you want to understand who they are, you must accept that it works.  You must participate in their lives not as an authority, but as an equal.”

Not as an authority, but as an equal.

You may be wondering why I’d introduce a blog post about Caitlyn Jenner with a seemingly innocuous story about anthropology.  Let me tell you another story, this time about the section in the big book of anthropology that talks about gender.  “Male and female anatomy exists, that is undeniable.  And that the anatomy of male and female is proscriptive of our lives to some degree is also undeniable.  Only women can become pregnant and give birth, and in many cultures that by necessity defines a certain aspect of their lives, because we need children to survive,” my professor said, “but beyond that anything you think of as male or female is as much a figment of your culture as stars being the spirits of flying fish in an ocean you’ll never touch.”

In many cultures, male and female roles are defined by what the society needs men and women to do.  That doesn’t mean that in every society women stay at home and give birth and don’t otherwise contribute.  In many cases, women have roles that are just as crucial to moving the society forward as men do.  In some societies, for a man to try to overpower a woman or boss her around is seen as a grave sin, which is interesting.  What is even more interesting is the amount of societies in which men’s and women’s roles are seen as fluid and changeable.  A man can “elect” to become a woman and care for his children, or a woman can “elect” to become a man.  If this happens, it is treated as a good thing.  One story is of a woman whose husband died when her children were still young.  She could either remarry, but then her children would be denied the inheritance of their biological father, or she could choose to “become” a man and never marry again, preserving her children’s inheritance and allowing her to provide for their needs.  (Recently a woman who did this in Egypt was honored for her sacrifice.)  In some cases women who do this take on identities as male and “become” men, in other cases such as the Egyptian woman, it is something they add to their female identity.

In any case, there are many cultures where “male” and “female” are seen more as descriptions of who someone is, based off of how they dress and act and operate within the culture, rather than proscriptive orders about who they can and should be based off of the presence of certain genitalia.

After all, when we start to sit down and define who is “male” and “female” based off of physical characteristics, things get muddy.

What makes a man a man or a woman a woman?  Is it the presence of external sex organs?  Because those can be removed, modified, or even created.  Back in the day when castrating boys was still common practice, did those “boys” become a third gender based off of their lack of either male or female sex characteristics?  Were they male because they were born with a penis, or were they female?

What do we call the women who are born without functioning ovaries or uteruses?  They cannot give birth, thus are they no longer female?  Do we define gender based off of what specific gender roles someone is capable of fulfilling?  Or do we look at DNA?  What about people who are born with one set of female chromosomes and one set of male?  Are they simultaneously male and female, or are they neither?

This is one of those cases where I don’t believe there is a single, correct, answer.  While we may be able to define a set of physical characteristics that mark “male” and “female”, then the argument becomes what happens when those change.  If the characteristics define the gender, then if I ceased to have a womb, or breasts, or a vagina, would I cease to be female?  And these questions cannot be taken lightly, as women who experience uterine or breast cancer often have to face these thoughts.  If I lose what defines my role, my gender, do I lose my self?  Or is the gender, the role, based not off of the body but off of some harder to define, more intangible thing?

Men lose their gonads.  Sometimes their penises fail to function.  Do they cease to be men?

“Ah-” someone may interject, “it is what you are born as.”

I find that hard to stomach.  One’s role in society isn’t defined from birth.  At birth it wasn’t decided that I would be a wife or mother or teacher or Christian or anything else.  Those things that I have become, I have become as a result of my choices and actions.  And while I can say that I feel like a mother, and a Christian, and a woman, I cannot say that when I was younger I even understood what any of those things meant or what it felt to be them.  In many of those cases, those feelings had yet to even be birthed.

I will never be a woman who wears a certain kind of clothes, because when those clothes hit my body I feel instantly uncomfortable.  As an infant, I could’ve been dressed in them against my will.  I would hate for people to point at pictures of me in frilly pink dresses as an infant and say, “see, that is who you are.”

No.  Who I am, I am because I took the time to explore my self and get to know it.  I made deliberate choices about what I wanted from my life, and who I wanted to be.  I am the kind of woman I am, because I feel this is the person I am meant to be now, even if then I could not have understood or expressed that.

When I was younger, I had a female friend who had never felt like a “girl”.  I remember her crying in my arms and saying that she hated her female body and wanted for it to die, it didn’t feel like it belonged to her.  I cannot confess to knowing or understanding how that would feel, but what I do know and I do understand is that I had no right to correct her.  She felt what she felt, and if she had told me that she wanted to be referred to as “he” I would have done it in a heartbeat, because she was the one living in that body.  She was the one whose responsibility and right was to decide how to live with those feelings.

Commanding someone to live with those feelings in a specific way too often leads to death.

The suicide rate for transgender people is very high, and it is even higher for transgender youth.  Some statistics estimate as high as 45% of transgender youth attempt suicide.  The rates of violence experienced by transgender people is also much higher than the population at large, and that number also skyrockets for transgender youth (especially in ethnic minorities.)

This feeling, of being stuck in a body that doesn’t belong, can be a death sentence in too many ways.

So, to paraphrase my anthropology professor, “if you’re dealing with a person who feels like they are the wrong gender for their body, you accept that.  You live with them not as an authority, but as an equal.”

The first day of kindergarten, we all faced a big sign on the wall, usually a nice golden-colored one, that said “always treat other people the way you would want to be treated.”  That is a very basic law of reciprocity in our society:  if you want respect, you show respect.  If you want kindness, you first must be kind.

When people get very belligerent about the fact that Caitlyn Jenner is really a man named Bruce, this is how I respond:

Man:  “He’s not a woman.  He’s just not.”
Me:  “What gives you the right to decide that?”
Man:  “It’s just the truth as I see it.”
Me:  “Well, the truth as I see it is that you’re a woman named Susan.  And I don’t care that you can show me male genitalia and that you feel like you are a man, you are a woman named Susan to me now.”
Man:  “No I’m not.”
Me:  “We’re just having a difference of opinion, lady, don’t get your panties in a wad.”

Who decides who Caitlyn Jenner is?  Well, there are two people.  The first is Caitlyn, and the second is the law.  In terms of the law, a person seeking gender reassignment therapy who is taking hormones and undergoing changes to their physical characteristics in order to reflect a different gender than the one on their birth certificate is legallyable to fill out paperwork as the gender they want to be assigned.  So, Caitlyn may legally be seen as a woman and may legally be entitled to treatment as a woman.  If she can check the female box on paperwork and her driver’s license says “Caitlyn Jenner” and “Female”, then I say the least we can do is give her the correct legal name and legal pronoun.

But even so, who decides what is the fair way to treat someone?

Let me tell you another story.  I was fighting with someone I was in a relationship with.  That person told me, “don’t be such a bitch about this.”  I told them that I was really offended they’d use that word to describe me and I didn’t feel like I was being a bitch, I was just expressing my needs.  They persisted in calling me a bitch.

That relationship didn’t last long, because feeling loved and valued as a human being walked hand in hand with feeling respected, and part of feeling respected was knowing the other party understood the ways their word and attitude effected me.  To put things simply, they had to treat me in a way I was comfortable being treated, or they had no place in my life.

Who defines what is loving treatment?  Who defines what is respect?  These aren’t things that you can turn to a dictionary and get step-by-step instructions for.  In every relationship, to know and to love and to respect are things we learn from each other through communication.  Caitlyn Jenner has expressed that she wishes to be seen and treated as a woman, to do anything less is to disrespect her terms for having a relationship with the world.

Now, this note is especially to Christians:  Do we believe that Caitlyn Jenner, that any transgendered person, is a person that God loves?  If we do, that means we have an obligation also to love.  And if we have an obligation to love, that means we cannot do things that disrupt relationship.  And if we must do that, that means we must start with accepting the person not on our terms, but on their terms.  This is where the Church too often falls woefully short, because we think that we have to accept people on God’s terms and thus we feel obligated to decide what God’s terms are.

It doesn’t work that way.  We express love, others respond, others become open to love in their own lives, and by a very simple reaction that love changes everyone.  It’s hard to be cruel when you love, it’s hard to lie when you love, it’s hard to sin when you love.  Because that love is something we wish to preserve, and that love cannot grow in soil that is poison to it.

So when you are openly disrespecting someone, openly condemning them, openly shutting the door to any conversation with them, you aren’t loving.  You are doing the opposite.  You are destroying the soil that love needs to grow.

What does that matter?  Many readers may say, “it’s not like I’m friends with Caitlyn Jenner.”  Yes, but you’re friends with other humans.  And chances are, at least one of them is transgender or is friends with someone transgender or you have friends who simply care about the human rights of transgender people.  And you know those friend?  Those friends you are injuring by extension.

Our words matter.  Our attitudes matter.  Whether or not we respect other people’s way of being human matters.

We don’t get to decide that Caitlyn Jenner is a man named Bruce.

Duck Dynasty, Exposure, and Godliness.

So, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame apparently couldn’t stop talking about how sinful being gay is while giving a reporter from GQ a tour of his home.  His subsequent suspension from appearances on A&E created a dual dust-up:  Gay people that are offended that yet another high-profile Christian has made them into a whipping boy, and Christians who scream “free speech” in response to his censure at the hands of the production company.

I had a handful of kneejerk responses to seeing the news.  The first was that I checked on all of my gay friends on Facebook, because if any of them had posted an angry, sad, or bitter retort I wanted to express my condolences for any pain they felt.  The second was to check on all my Christian friends, just in case I felt the need to offer some perspective.  The third was to hunt down the original article in question and read it carefully.  After that, I had to do some thinking.

My feelings on this issue are complex, as my feelings inevitably seem to be.

First, I am tired to my very bones of Christians feeling the need to pick at the sins of society as a whole.  We can’t ever fully understand God or his motivations, but we can look to the Bible and see what examples he gives us.  In the old Testament we see God ordering one of his prophets to marry a prostitute, as this is a metaphor for his love for his people.  The metaphor?  The man loves his wife but she leaves him to pursue her own interests time and time again, only coming back when she is beaten and bruised.  Hm.  Another example I find illuminating is, of course, Christ.  He did talk about sin, but he lived a life that was not focused on it.  His life was focused on compassion.  Then there are the letters of the apostles which of course are filled with admonitions- but they were talking to fellow Christians, and we really honestly cannot use their language as a model for how to speak with unbelievers, so what are we left with?

Looking back at the story of Hosea and the prostitute Gomer, I am continuously struck by the fact that while her sin and abandonment of her vows was an issue, the greater focus was on God’s love for his people and how Hosea’s love of her was a reflection of that.

The story of salvation may involve sin by necessity, but it isn’t the story of sin.

duck heads

Focusing on sin misses the mark, and that’s where I think that Phil Robertson’s portrayal of Christianity falls short.  You can say that his remarks about how guys ought to dig vaginas were a defense of Christian beliefs, but is that what Christianity boils down to?  Not liking anus?

Given a platform to discuss anything, or to defend the faith, what exactly needs defending?  The right to consider homosexuality a sin, or the right to demonstrate God’s love?

For me, at least, the choice is clear.

Then, when it comes to considering whether or not A&Es censure of Robertson is a condemnation of faith or simply an investment-saving move, I think the truth is equally as clear.  Robertson was given the time with the GQ reporter to further A&Es brand, which is bound up in the Robertson family’s persona.  While that persona involves their Christianity-inspired down-south values, consideration has to be given to the audience at hand.  GQs audience probably isn’t reading a spread on Duck Dynasty to hear about how being gay is bad.  It’s simply bad PR, and from A&Es point of view Robertson’s job was as a brand ambassador, not an ambassador for Christ.

He’s being censured for not doing his job.

This is the problem with mixing God and money.  If you choose God, you aren’t choosing money, and if you choose money you may have to turn on your morals.  If Robertson’s ultimate goal was furthering his version of the gospel, in the end losing his screen time should be a price he is happy to pay for having done that.  If his ultimate goal was money, well, he had the choice to keep his mouth shut.

(Although, honestly, there is a fair argument to be made that furthering God doesn’t necessitate gay-bashing.)

Now, for the issue of free speech:

If Robertson was an atheist and had said that Christianity had no place in American politics and that politicians should be censured if they admit to their personal ethics being influenced by the Bible, would the Christian community be saying his right to free speech is sacrosanct?

Food for thought.

Picture from Jamesjustin

Okay, so she’s gay, what about the frogs?

So today, my kids overheard something on the radio and asked me what gay marriage was and if that was different from what me and their dad have.  I knew that things like this would come up eventually, but still felt a moment of hesitation before answering them.  I told them that gay is a word for a boy who wants to kiss another boy or a girl who wants to kiss another girl, and that gay marriage is for two girls or two boys that want to live together and take care of each other.  Initially, the kids were a little nonplussed.  Alana laughed and said, “all the girls I know are married to BOYS mom, I’ve never heard of a girl marrying another girl.”  I told her that I knew girls that married other girls, and that not everyone was the same, and just because no one in our family is gay that doesn’t mean that being gay is weird.

My daughter thought about that for a minute and asked me if she knew anyone that was gay.  I had to pray about that for a minute, because unbeknownst to Princess her godmother is gay, and I didn’t want to say anything that would change the very special relationship they have.  Fighter was sitting off to the side with his arms crossed and a very serious look on his face.  Okay, I trust my kids.  They are the best people I know.  They can deal with this.  So I tell them that their godmother is gay, and I would really like for her to be able to be married and have someone to share her life with some day.  What do they think of that?

Fighter shrugs, says that he once had a dream about two boys being married and why not?  If you love someone and want to take care of them that’s good.  Princess, always one to have to think about things more, asks if two girls can have a baby if they want.  Well, they can always adopt a baby.  “Not everyone wants babies I guess,” Princess continues.  Her eyes light up, “OH, I wanted to talk about frogs.  Can I have the computer?”

“Sure,” I say, wondering if this conversation is actually over.

“ME TOO,” says Fighter.

“Hold on one second,” I say, “because you should know that sometimes people say really hurtful things to people who are gay, or ask them questions that are really hard to answer like why don’t they just act like other people.  I want you to know that you can talk to me about that kind of stuff.  But be careful who you talk to, and if you hear people saying mean things don’t be afraid to just walk away.  You need to be careful, and understand that it can be painful for some people to talk about.”

“I get it,” Fighter says, and Princess is still talking about this one time she saw a video of a squeaking frog.  Apparently this conversation really, truly was over.

And then a few minutes later I get a text message.  The kids have been on Facebook, letting their godmother know that it’s cool if she marries a girl.  But, more importantly, what superheros is she into?  And does she know about the frogs that don’t say ribbit?  Because, when it was all said and done, they could pick up the relationship where they left it with nothing changed.

Nothing changed, except wanting their godmother to know that her life was cool with them.

And I think, I wish that it was always that easy to love and accept someone.  And it could be, couldn’t it?  If we, like kids, pushed all of the other questions out of the way and just worked at preserving the relationship.  Like kids, realizing without even thinking that what really matters is the connections we make with each other.  I asked my daughter if it bothered her that her godmother wasn’t the same as her.  Princess shrugged and said, “I already knew she was different because she doesn’t do hair.”  Well, that’s true.

“If it bothered you, you could tell me.”

“People are different from each other,” Princess says in her straightforward, life-is-a-constant-lesson way, “what matters is if you’re loving.  If you want to be friends.  If you want to learn about each other’s things.”

I’ve heard people say, “what will we say to the Children?” as if there is simply no explanation for the existence of gays that can be made.  Maybe we shouldn’t be worried about what to say to the kids.  Maybe we should be worried about our own capacity to understand what they say in return.  In this case, the lesson couldn’t be clearer.  Their love for their godmother wasn’t based off of their idea of who she was, it was based off of what they shared with each other.  Why should her sexuality change that?

It didn’t.

My Time as Two Pink Rectangles

If you’re on Facebook, you know there are happenings in the Supreme court this week.  You know it because chances are at least a handful of your friends have replaced their smiling faces with little equals signs, and you may feel that there’s an invasion of the Borg and you’re about to be assimilated.  (Or the Daleks, or the Vampires, depending on what fandom you’re familiar with.)  I have to say I’ve taken it all in with mixed emotions.  Like many of my friends, right now I’m also a pink equal sign.  I did it to show my friends that I support them, because while their sexuality leaves them inextricably marked I myself have happily been able to be “normal”.  I don’t think it’s too much to ask that for one week I be as marked as many of my friends feel, and for one week I’m open to judgment and “what the heck is that profile photo about” and whatever, as a simple expression of love.   I love my gay friends, and I know how much it means for them to see their Facebook pages painted pink and red.  No matter how alone they may feel when they and their partners get sideways glances in shopping markets and face blasts of hate from the evening news, for this one week they don’t feel so alone.

But even in the happy solidarity of equal signs flying back and forth on Facebook, and for one blissful minute feeling the togetherness of all of our names sharing the same face, there is something in it all that turns my stomach.  Not the love, not the togetherness, but the fact that it’s contrived by a unique set of circumstances.  Some day, maybe tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day, we’ll all go back to being ourselves.

This tenuous feeling of togetherness, of shared love and shared rejection, of spreading the hurt across a thousand faces that for one moment choose to share the same mask; this tenuous thread will break, and I’ll go back to being just another face in the crowd. But my friends?  They’ll still be holding hands with their lovers in the grocery store.

Let me tell you a story.  Last night, I was commenting on a friend’s page, and one of his friends asked me if we could private message.  I (willingly) subjected myself to a protracted conversation where I was interrogated while this very well-meaning soul tried to catch me in a logic trap to teach me the error of my theology.  I can’t judge the guy, because I’ve been that kind of person myself and I’m sure that people who think that gays are a threat feel the same queasiness that I felt while being subjected to my own Biblical exegesis.  But it made me wonder, what did I do?  What did I do to convince this guy that I needed him to explain salvation to me?  Why does he think that I need to be drilled on faith and works?  Why does he think that I haven’t heard this argument a thousand times before?

Oh, I get it. I’m a pink equality symbol, so I must be broken.  I must need somebody’s help to understand scripture.  But tomorrow, or the day after that, or the day after that, I won’t be a threat anymore.  I’ll just be a smiling strawberry blonde who disagrees.  I won’t be marked.

You may be wondering where I’m going with this.  That’s okay, I wonder where I’m going with it too.  Here’s the thing:  It’s easy to forget, in the love and solidarity, what it’s all about.  It’s about a world in which people are told, tacitly and constantly, that they are flawed.  Where people who are subjected to judgement and criticism, where well-meaning people feel it’s their moral obligation to offer correction and condemnation at every turn.  A world in which it must at times be hard as Hell to accept the fact that there is a Creator out there who loves and needs you, and wants you to experience His love and blessing.  A world that straight people may or may not be assimilated into.  But we must never, ever, ever forget:  for some people, that world is just life.  I don’t believe at the end of the day that I have a choice in whether or not I choose to align myself with my gay friends, my single mom friends, my pot smoking friends, my Buddhist an Atheist and Agnostic and Just Plain Confused friends.  I don’t feel that it’s optional that when one of them asks me to show solidarity I do it immediately and without thinking.  Why?  Because how can I minister any love to them if I am not willing to be a part of their world.  How could I ever in good conscience ask them to enter MY world, MY faith, MY belief if I am not willing to bring it into theirs?

So, yeah, on Facebook I’m a pink equality sign.  All I can do is hope that in the real world the compassion I feel for the people I rub shoulders worth marks me as clearly as that avatar does.  And for my friends, my dear friends for whom I mark myself:  you are loved.  I don’t want to leave your world.  It’s rocky and engulfed in flames from time to time as the random hateful visitor passes through, but by God you are here.  You are here, and you make it worth every second.

GUEST POST: Lee Goff reviews Honest Conversation

(A review of my novella Honest Conversation by Lee Goff, author of the Thunder Trilogy books)

Honest Conversation’ is a novella that wastes no time getting directly to one of the most controversial issues of our day, homosexuality in the church. The story opens with Zoe, an associate pastor in a local church, agonizing over the congregation’s reaction towards a recent addition to their church, two gay men, Kyle and Evan. Kyle is a long time believer, Evan is not. Enter John, the lead pastor for the church, bearing the burden of leading a church in the way he feels Christ would, which at the moment seems to be in opposition to the feelings of the membership.

Zoe, for her own personal reasons that are revealed in the book, champions both kyle and Evan, to the point of threatening resignation if they are not treated as she feels they should be. John, the one called to shepherd the church, tries to find the path that pleases everyone, especially the influential members that strongly oppose the gay couple.

Kay has chosen her characters nicely and writes in a style comfortable and easy flowing. She gratefully skips the ’feel what I feel’ format and leaves the reaction up to the reader. There is not a deep development of the characters, but that is typical in a novella. I confess some disappointment here, but it is a compliment rather than a criticism, as she has given us enough of John and Zoe to want more. In John, we are shown a pastor, the shepherd, as opposed to a preacher. He is more interested in the spiritual health of his flock than he is the potential loss of members, and make no mistake about it, this threat is a real one in our churches today. This is refreshing, and likely contradictory to the reality of many churches. Just my opinion, but his character could serve as an example of how a challenged pastor might handle this situation in their own church.

Zoe, on the other hand, irritated me beyond description. I give kudos to the author in being able to achieve this, since I rarely get this personally involved with characters. Zoe is non-compromising, bull-headed, and seems to ignore the pain her pastor and friend is going through during this time. It is in this view I have of the characters that might just be the most accurate mirror of our church society today. Sides are chosen; an ‘all or nothing’ attitude developed, and because of that, the ability to compromise is gone. Here is where the author makes a difference, and by doing so, sets this book apart from those with a singular agenda owned by the author, and the intent of pushing that agenda on the reader.

I’m not going to spoil the ending, but it shocked me. I expected a neatly wrapped up story with a bow designed by the author and her self-imposed agenda of accepting gays into the church without any thought to the sin that the others feel accompanies the lifestyle. The author, through the wisdom of john, the pastor, gives us what just might be the best way for a church to address this issue. It is not a compromise, it is not a victory for one side only. It is possibly just the way a man that walked 2000 years ago would have handled it.

I do not recommend this book to someone with a closed mind; unwilling to learn. I do, however, recommend it to anyone open to learning something about this issue, and willing to look at it as Christ Himself might have.

One more thing…that criticism. It’s too short. The characters and their personalities leave us wanting more of them. They are who they are due to their past, and I wanted more of that. And in the world of authors, this criticism is perhaps the best thing one could hear.

–Lee Goff

Let me tell you what Hell is.

The text read:  “Im going to burn in hell ne way.”

*beep beep*

“Life is pain.  Why live?  Pain forever, then hell.  I want it over with.”

I got his address off of Facebook, we’d become friends only days before when he’d been given a copy of my novel.  I wasn’t sure what had inspired him to reach out to me.  All I knew was that I’d stayed home from church that day because I was sick, and here he was.  Reaching out.  Not wanting to die alone.

“Don’t be an idiot”, I texted him back.  “There is love.  There is hope.   If you go to hell I’m going with you.”

Painful seconds passed.

“I’m almost to your house,” I wrote.  “Calling you.”

I will never, ever, forget the pain in his voice when he answered his phone.  When we’d met a few days before, he had been the kindest, gentlest, most soft spoken person I’d ever known.  He had been so quick to laugh, and although he obviously was living with a great deal of pain his spirit shone through.  The voice I heard through the phone was almost robotic in it’s monotone and so desperately lacking in spirit.  “Just stay alive another minute,” I told him.  “I’m turning, where are you?”

He came out on the front porch and agreed to go with me.  I took him to a mental health clinic that was fortunately only a few blocks away.  Even so, it was one of the longest car rides of my life.

“God doesn’t hate you,” I said.  “God loves you.”

“You know what they say?”  He replied, “I would’ve never been gay unless God totally rejected me.”

“For F—‘s sake, you said you’ve known you were gay since you were six!  What did a six year old do to get wholly rejected by God?”

“It doesn’t matter, does it?”  He wiped away tears but it was like wiping at the Columbia, it just kept rushing out.  “I mean, I can’t not be gay and no one cares, I mean, they don’t care no matter what.  It’s like, ‘well sure you’re depressed, it’s what comes from sin.’ And like, ‘the wages of sin is death’ so like if I kill myself, that’s justice.  That’s justice.”

“And here I took you for someone pretty smart,” I responded.  “You know homosexual acts are listed right with gossip and idle talk and drunkenness.  If your suicide is justice half that freaking church needs to put a blade to their wrist.”

“I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Well I’m kind of pissed that you almost died on my watch.  I could say more.”

He just stared at me.

“God is love, right?  You remember my favorite passage.  It’s all over the book.  The people that won’t help you because you are gay can’t be speaking for God because it’s not loving to turn away from someone’s pain.  Whatever they said it doesn’t matter.”

“You didn’t hear them, Ell.  All of the verses, and it’s like, ‘hey, it’s in the Bible.  We’re just being obedient.'”

“Shut the eff up, man, or I’ll pull over and slap you.”

“Ell!”

“I don’t want to hear that crap in my car even if you are quoting someone else.  Forget it.”

“I don’t understand, I mean, I thought you were a Christian.”

“Of course I’m a Christian, that’s why I can recognize bull when I hear it.  The fruit of the spirit is goodness and patience and love and whatever the other ones are.”

“Ha!”

“I’m a little distracted by how pissed I am and can’t do the brain thing, forgive me.”

“What were you saying?”

“Love.  That’s the fruit of the spirit.  If the fruit of their obedience is your death, it’s not my God they are obeying.”

“Oh,” he said.

“And honestly I’m feeling more Christlike right now than I have in years.”

* * *

A few weeks later we would be emailing back and forth, and I would say this.  “What you said about Hell.  I can show you hell.  It’s a kid going to a church because he’s on the brink and he needs someone to love him, and they show him the door.  I don’t know where Jesus is right now, but he is weeping.  And he still loves you.  Don’t give up.”

Here’s the thing:  I don’t care what your personal conviction is about homosexuality.  What I care about is my friend, and other people like him.  Sadly, he’s not the only kid I’ve ever heard tell that story and I doubt he’ll be the last, even though I fervently pray it’s not the case.  I’ve talked enough blades off of wrists for my lifetime.

Here’s the thing:  gay people aren’t the enemy.  Homosexuality is never singled out in the Bible.  It always appears hand in hand with other sins:  hubris, for example.  Drunkenness and gluttony.  Idolatry.  Idle talk and gossip.  What infuriates me more than anything else in the whole debate about sexuality is that you see people saying “we can’t let gays get married because it goes against the Bible” but the same people aren’t trying to pass laws to outlaw idle chatter, gluttony, or even premarital sex.  How is it okay for Christian organizations to be pursuing keeping sodomy laws on the books while their employees chat about who Julie is dating on their breaks?

I’m sorry, guys, that may strike you as an extreme example but I am being completely serious.

The Bible doesn’t make a distinction between the sins it lists.  Being gay is no worse than being a gossip, and both things are equally condemned in the church.

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  (1 Corinthians 5:11)

At the end of the day, what makes a sexually immoral person such a target as opposed to all of the other sins on the list?

And then we get into discussions about the law and about how opposing gay marriage is just obedience to God.  Let me tell you something:  God never once commanded us to make laws regarding the morality of people outside the church.  In fact, He said something more like:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12)

Their sin is none of our business.

The more Christians speak out against gay rights, the more they talk about the sin issue, the more they put out literature talking about how Gay people are sold to sin and more likely to abuse children and get drunk and have “depraved sexual relations” that “go against God”… the more I think about people like my friend, with the razor to their wrist, thinking that there is nothing to do but die.

Let me tell you what Hell is:

It’s a church so focused on sin that it’s forgotten how to love.

We have absolutely no business talking about the sexuality of those not in the church.

It goes against the Bible.

And for those inside the church, we should talk about it quietly, in confidence, not blast about it on the internet for every suicidal 19 year old gay boy to see.

Just.

Stop.

For the love of God, think about what you are doing.

A Call to Arms.

The church has been usurped to be used for political means.  This CAN NOT stand.

If you think that Chick-Fil-A day was just about Free Speech, you have been misled.  We cannot trust those who pose as authorities in our faith, the faith has been compromised.  Mike Huckabee stated that Chick-Fil-A day was about “basic fairness” and that people needed to “stop being afraid someone might have a different view than them.”  Huckabee, and others speaking similarly to him, posed the whole debate as if it was just about free speech.  The dialogue portrayed liberals as intolerant people who want to quash the conservative voice because they didn’t want anyone disagreeing with them.  The issue was made primarily about Cathy’s affirmative statement towards “traditional” marriage.

Many liberals, sadly, played into that hand just enough to make Cathy’s supporter’s argument for them, which is tragic.

The issue was never about Cathy’s personal views.  The issue, for the gay community, was always about where he spent the WinShape foundation’s cash, the WinShape foundation being funded by Chick-Fil-A’s money.

That issue is inarguable, and central to the topic of Christianity being co-opted for political means.

Now, picture this:  hundreds of thousands of people in the liberal vote are steaming mad because they find out that a little portion of every dollar spend at Chick-Fil-A goes to fund groups that say things like “gay people are more likely to molest your children” and have actively worked to keep sodomy laws on the books.  It may only be a minuscule portion of each dollar, an nth of a penny, but that isn’t what matters.  What matters is that in a free society there are still people who want to keep consenting sex between two adults of the same gender illegal, and that Cathy has either knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the continuation of such work.  What matters is that there are people who believe that gay people are more likely to molest your children, have mental illness, and commit other kinds of crimes.  That people use faulty studies from over forty years ago done in prisons to back up wildly misleading statistics, and they actively work to educate people in a way that is at it’s best deeply flawed but at it’s worst purposefully misleading.  That the church turns a blind eye to such actions being taken out in it’s name is appalling.  There is no other word.  It is flawed silence such as that which contributes to the openly defended bigotry so many gay people are injured by, and it is that bigotry that builds the foundation of fear, contempt, and self-hatred that leads such a disproportionate amount of gay teens to commit suicide.

Gay people have every right to be angry that people are blindly funneling money into making sex with their partners and spouses illegal and to prevent more states from allowing gay marriage.  But if that was the only issue, I think that there would be a lot less vitriol in this argument.  There should be no one, Christian or non-Christian, gay affirming or same-sex-marriage-not-wanting, who would agree that it is good to continue to spread literature which claims that science proves that being gay is a grave disorder which threatens society, posing gay people as frightening bugaboos who will tear your community to the ground, literature which the Family Research Council relies on to scare people into funding it.

This sort of literature is antithetical to the call to love your neighbors.

It is judgmental at it’s core, breeds only condemnation, and leaves no room for redemption to be birthed.

It does fall within the province of free speech.  The Family Research council has a right to produce it, and Cathy has a right to fund it if he chooses to.

But do Christians have an obligation to defend it?

Is it, as Huckabee claimed, an issue of basic fairness?  Is the gay community’s opposition to such literature being funded an issue of not tolerating anyone having a different point of view than them?

When thousands of people lined up around street corners and bought so many waffle fries some stores had to close early, what the gay community saw was not a redeeming love.  They didn’t even see Christians lining up to show support for their brethren’s right to free speech.  What they saw was an attack.  They said, “we don’t want money going to make more hate speech preached under the guise of science and Christian education”, and they saw thousands of people line up to say, “we’re going to throw as much money at that as we can.”

What I saw, from my lonely corner of the world, was thousands of people being manipulated into creating a political schema for the upcoming election.  What I saw was a framework for the Republican candidate being able to call liberals whiny and intolerant and unwilling to let capitalism work for the other side.

What I saw was the church falling on it’s own sword.

How many people do you think took the time to actually talk to someone on the other side of the problem?  How many parroted what the powers that be told them and believed it whole cloth with the naivete of a child.  As if there was no one who could possibly want to take advantage of their belief that Christians ought to trust one another.  We were told that we needed to defend Cathy’s right to tell the truth.

The truth is it’s own defense.

If Cathy told “the truth” and was boycotted as a result, he’d be storing up treasures in jars of clay regardless.  It was not our job to defend him.  God is his defender, the lifter of his head, his strong tower.  Cathy didn’t need thousands of people ordering chicken sandwiches.

Gay people did need to know that God loves them, and doesn’t want them to be caused pain.

Truth was not defended.

Truth was ignored.

The call to arms should not have been to spend money at a capitalist establishment to defend a right that had never been infringed on.

The call to arms must be to reach out to the other side in love.